Written by Douglas Locklin, one of the students on the course

This August, a group of teams of youth leaders from across Europe came together in Denmark for a week long Erasmus+ course to develop and practice Tools for Cultural Change. Teams from Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and Ukraine participated in a week-long event conceived and facilitated by Ruben, a biologist and permaculture teacher from Spain and Jan, a life-coach, community development facilitator, and social permaculture educator. The event was hosted, housed, and fed through the caring generosity of the Avnø Oasis community, an ecovillage who shared their homes, gardens, and delicious macrobiotic menus created by Kristiane, likely inspiring many participants to bring the cultural change home in our relationships to food and pursuit of eco-entrepreneurship. 

Each day began with a morning circle of awareness, infused with energy through games, dance, song, and laughter as the sun warmed our bodies and the gentle breezes lifted our spirits. The circles saw us grow into a community through the practice of group decision making inspired by sociocratic principles. Difficult issues were raised and addressed in an atmosphere intended to promote mutual respect and appreciation of the value contribution made by people with diverse cultural backgrounds, linguistic competencies, and physical and emotional needs. One morning we jumped, stretched, took turns expressing ourselves in unique sounds and motion that were then imitated by the group as a whole. That collective energy fueled the group for a long day of inspiring and transformative learning. 

The learning sessions invited us all to step out of our comfort zones, to move through fear on a pathway towards learning and growth. Working in small groups we discussed our visions for an ideal world founded on principles of inclusive social permaculture. It takes just some of us working together in a critical mass to implement profound social change, and we can begin as individuals working in our communities to create the momentum to build that critical mass for the changes we all agree are necessary. 

One day, Ruben offered an inspiring workshop on regenerative culture. We learned that there are thriving, profitable companies and organizations whose actions embed values consistent with those of permaculture: people care, earth care, fair share. New organizational forms such as B corporations, social benefit corporations, and purpose trusts allow principled business leaders to do good work, create value for our stakeholders, and care for the environment. 

During another session, Ruben shared his insights on European and international organizational frameworks for sustainability including the United Nations Sustainable development goals (SDGs). The Tools for Cultural Change community broke out into small groups to discuss a critical question: “How can we imaginatively transform the SDGs beyond the paradigm of sustainability and towards regeneration?” 

With brains full to overflowing, bodies exhausted, and senses a bit frayed after a few days of intensive work exploring Tools for Cultural Change at Avnø Oasis, we gathered together for a meditation guided by Jan. We were invited to imagine our lives thirty years from now, in a world that not only survived but flourished through the application of the Tools for Cultural Change we had learned. A playful and curious child asked us if the stories were true that we once lived in a world with war, hunger, and climate catastrophe. She asked us how we managed to survive and make the beautiful world we helped create for her. Later, we split into groups of two, taking turns to speak to and listen to our partners, acting as stand-ins for Gaia, or Mother Earth. What would you want to ask her? What would you tell her? Jan showed us we can reconnect with Gaia if we take the chance to slow down, breathe, and listen quietly with attention and respect. 

One of the most important lessons we learned was that sometimes declaring an intention out loud makes us more likely to turn that intention into practical action. Jan invited the group to share our commitment to enact practical cultural change through concrete steps. Rather than use language like “I wish” or “I want” or “I hope” we were invited to put our intentions in motion by saying “I will” or “I can’” or “I shall.” 

Jan and Ruben’s teachings inspired the emergent community they had convened by opening their hearts and sharing their insights, exemplifying the dedication of true servant leaders. We thank Jan, Ruben, Kristiane and the Avnø Oasis community for sharing their love and wisdom that led quite many of us to experience profound changes in energy, insight, hope, and intentionality to embrace a cultural change in our relationship to food, to the Earth and each other. The community *will* show our appreciation by bringing these tools home to share with the youth we are so honored to serve.